Why Go Bald sprouts new growth

Carol Johnson has expanded the hair treatments on offer to include a skin and beauty side to the busines

Universal Hair and Scalp Clinic is Ireland's first and longest running hair and scalp clinic. The clinic is located on Dublin's George's Street and is well known by the iconic "Why Go Bald" neon sign which hangs on the side of the building.

"Mr WGB as we call him, is listed, so we restore him and keep him clean. I always think, 'why is there no question mark!' We need a neon question mark," says Carol Johnson, consultant trichologist and owner of the clinic.

Johnson used to see the iconic sign when she was very young, travelling on the bus into Dublin city centre to go to the cinema with her sister. Now she owns the business.

Johnson explains how she got into the field of trichology.


“I remember being a young girl and my mother marching me to the doctor and the chemist with a condition which could have been ring-worm or alopecia and hearing, ‘ah, there’s nothing you can do for that’. That experience really helps me with my clients today.”

Trichology is a specialised area of dermatology and the clinic also has a sitting dermatologist.

"There has been a sitting trichologist here since the 1950s when Sydney Goldsmith started the business," Johnson says. "Most of our clients come to us by word of mouth. We don't spend on advertising. We work with people throughout their lives, and we want to ensure that people get the correct diagnosis and treatment. We survive on the goodwill that we show to our clients. We get great recommendations and we have people from all walks of life and all ages, including children."

Johnson says that dermatologists refer people to the clinic, as do GPs, barbers and hairdressers. Then there are word of mouth and self-referrals. We offer check-ups for free for life.

“We also get referrals from solicitors and I’m occasionally called as an expert witness in certain cases.”

Another unique aspect of the business is the apothecary in the clinic. “Every treatment we apply, we make. We have an apothecary here so we know what we are blending and recommending for people. We have a dispensary so we can stand over everything we are treating people with. It’s very bespoke and prescriptive, all these things set us apart,” says Johnson.

Johnson bought the clinic nine years ago.

"Really I was buying the clientele in the middle of a recession. The news was doom and gloom in 2008. Everyone just wanted to jump off the island. It was a struggle. There were times I didn't pay myself. But you just have to push on. Ann Goldsmith, Sydney's wife, said to me, 'we survived a recession before, you'll do it again'. People would come in and they'd say to me 'I hope this place doesn't close' and I'd listen to them."

“So, what we did during the more difficult years was we would work out payment plans with clients. We always managed to come to some arrangement so we never let someone go without treatment. We gave them credit, in effect. We wouldn’t stop their treatment just because they had lost their job,” says Johnson.

In order to survive, the clinic developed a skin and beauty side to the business, offering things like microdermabrasion facials, thread vein removal, wart removal, anti-wrinkle injections and facial fillers, and other treatments which increased their cash flow.

“I gave complimentary beauty treatments to our hair and scalp clients to get them interested. I felt very confident. I knew what I was doing and it’s a unique business. There aren’t that many of me!

“People come from all over Ireland and now from the UK to see me. People who came for the beauty then came for enquiries for a hair and scalp assessment and they may not have walked through the door in any other way.

“The perception might be that we deal with male pattern baldness. However, it is a lot more.

“People’s hair is so intimate and so personal. Sometimes we work with people who have conditions including pulling out their own hair and we offer a very safe, specialised expertise in all the conditions we treat.

“We have a very low turnover of staff, with some being here over 25 years. We pride ourselves on our tradition, our honest diagnosis and advice. Discretion is very important. Our team really understand that and of course all our treatments are evidenced based”, says Johnson.

“Hair is so fashionable with young men at the moment. A lot of people come in and their self-esteem is low. People mightn’t be going out as much as they otherwise would . A woman mightn’t want to go to her daughter’s wedding. It’s such a relief for people when they are offered a solution, especially when they may have been told there’s nothing that can be done.”

Johnson believes her own experience definitely helps in how she responds and understands the tension, nerves, anxiety and stress that people with hair and scalp conditions can experience.

“My dad always said to me: ‘you’re either a driver or a passenger. Go and be a driver’. So I was always looking for something I wanted to do and be passionate about, always learning. I get clients coming in now saying ‘I heard you’re very good, a doctor recommended you’. That’s very rewarding for me. Hair loss is about prevention; I would say to people, come in and get a proper diagnosis and we will help”.